Bruce Arena’s United States Roster Options for March
Bruce Arena has more deserving players than he has roster spots for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama, and the last couple of international friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica have left him with some tough roster decisions.
For one, his former LA Galaxy player Sebastian Lletget looked good enough to start because of the positive impact he had on the team’s overall passing and skill level, plus Lletget can play the position that the suspended Jermaine Jones plays.
Benny Feilhaber also showed very well as an attacking midfielder, and he outplayed Sacha Kljestan, which isn’t surprising given the fact that Feilhaber is a more dynamic and creative player than Kljestan, who still offers qualities that the team needs. Darlington Nagbe looked dangerous as a left wing, and Nagbe might be more useful as a center midfielder.
Feilhaber and Lletget demonstrated that they offer the type of passing, possession, and creativity that the U.S. has been lacking, so starting them together with Christian Pulisic would make a lot of sense. This possibly leaves Fabian Johnson on the bench, but Arena has the option of using Wood as the lone forward, which would allow Michael Bradley, Johnson, Feilhaber, Lletget, and Pulisic to all start in the midfield.
There are also some decisions to make with regards to the defense, but starting DeAndre Yedlin, Steve Birnbaum, John Brooks, and possibly Jorge Villafaña as the Back Four might be Arena’s best option, if Geoff Cameron is out. Walker Zimmerman played well enough to earn a spot on the roster as a center back, and he has developed some chemistry with Birnbaum.
Arena is supposed to call up about 25 players for the upcoming games, and here is a look at the players who deserve to make that list right now:
Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, William Yarbrough
Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are automatic inclusions for this roster, if Howard is healthy, which he is reported to be, and William Yarbrough is likely the more talented and qualified goalkeeper after them. Yarbrough has played well in Liga MX for several years now, and he looked commanding and qualified to man the goal for the United States when he has featured in the past. There are many other excellent goalkeeper options for the U.S. such as Ethan Horvath, David Bingham, and Nick Rimando, but Yarbrough is likely better and more prepared for this type of game, which is a World Cup qualifier. Yarbrough plays against better competition than the other third goalkeeper options. The question of who is the best third goalkeeper for the U.S. still doesn’t have a clear answer, but Arena’s comments indicate that he is leaning toward Rimando.
Steve Birnbaum, John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez, Walker Zimmerman, DeAndre Yedlin, Eric Lichaj, Jorge Villafaña, Greg Garza
This group of defenders is fairly straight forward. There are four center backs and four outside backs (two right backs and two left backs). Lichaj plays both right back and left back. Villafaña thoroughly outplayed Garza in the United States’ friendlies in January and February against Serbia and Jamaica, but Garza played against the better team in Serbia who fielded something of a C Team against the U.S. Nevertheless, Villafaña played with much more skill, activity, and influence than Garza who still looks very one-footed. Unlike Garza, Villafaña was cutting inside onto his weaker right foot to play crosses and combine with his teammates. With Geoff Cameron possibly not available for the March World Cup qualifiers, Walker Zimmerman will likely be his replacement on the roster with Birnbaum likely starting with John Brooks. Omar Gonzalez seems a likely pick to round out the fourth center back spot, although the U.S. should be calling up a more agile and skillful defender than Gonzalez who still looks prone to be left for dead by shifty and skillful attacking players.
Michael Bradley, Dax McCarty, Kellyn Acosta, Sebastian Lletget, Sacha Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber, Darlington Nagbe, Fabian Johnson, Christian Pulisic, Paul Arriola
This list has three defensive midfielders in Bradley, McCarty, and Acosta, and it also includes three playmakers in Feilhaber, Kljestan, and Lletget. It arguably has four attacking midfielders or playmakers if you include Nagbe. Lletget also excels as a box-to-box midfielder and wing on either side, and it’s important to note that both Kljestan and Feilhaber play as central midfielders or box-to-box midfielders where Nagbe also thrives. As for wings, this group includes five wings in Lletget, Pulisic, Johnson, Nagbe, and Arriola. Whether Arena uses a 4-2-3-1, 4-1-3-2, 4-3-3, or 4-4-2 formation, this group has the personnel to field an effective and talented lineup in any of those formations. This list of midfielders offers more technical skill, more ability to keep possession, and more attacking ability than the midfielders that the United States has used in the past.
Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo, Jordan Morris
The United States has never had a group of forwards as skilled as these four, and Wood is clearly the best of the bunch. Wood plays with a combination of smoothness, directness, speed, and clinical skill where he routinely stretches the defense and goes straight to goal. Wood is a more skilled and effective center forward than Altidore, and Wood is better at beating defenders and goalkeepers with both skill and speed. Agudelo is likely the second most skilled forward in the pool, and he is also able to bring hold up play and physicality along with his more important qualities of individual skill and creativity. Morris is a skillful and direct forward who also uses his excellent speed to beat defenders and attack the goal. Like Wood and Agudelo, Morris is a more aggressive and involved player than Altidore who needs to be more direct and ruthless in his attacking play. Wood and Altidore are the likely starting forward duo, but Agudelo with Wood would offer more of an attacking threat for the United States.
What is the best starting lineup from this group?
Guzan; Yedlin, Birnbaum, Brooks, Villafaña; Bradley; Johnson, Lletget, Feilhaber, Pulisic; Wood.